Sen. Cirino inadvertently reveals the indoctrination he is claiming his bill will challenge is most clearly present in his own legislation
Gray haired man

Ohio Senator Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) 

The recently introduced Ohio Senate Bill 83, the so-called Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act, has generated heated debate and considerable confusion over the bill’s motivation, what it actually says, its implications and impacts.

When asked at the first hearing what problem in Ohio public and private universities and colleges the bill was solving, the bill’s author, Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) stated plainly and clearly: to deal with a trend towards indoctrination in our universities.

But what is less plain and clear from the rattle-bag of bans and demands in the bill, is what this means in practice. Indoctrination is nowhere mentioned as the cause for the bill banning mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training, courses, and initiatives, academic relations with China, or university employees from striking.

At the same time, indoctrination is missing from the rationale for the bill demanding a compulsory American History course, Board of Trustees education programs, making course syllabi public or determining faculty workload and annual reviews.

So how is anyone meant to understand the relationship between what Sen. Cirino identifies as the main problem (indoctrination) and its solution (his bill)?

Luckily there have already been a couple of opportunities for us to hear Sen. Cirino offer some much-needed clarification. Recently he was interviewed by 610 AM’s Jack Windsor and Josh Seas on the Saving Liberty podcast (610 AM being the local pro-MAGA radio station) and in a Dispatch op-ed.

In his Dispatch op-ed, Sen. Cirino denounces critiques of the bill from university professors for how they have misrepresented it, while for the podcast he is speaking to like-minded supporters of the bill. While reading the bill yourself is the best way to understand what it does and does not do, listening to its author articulate what it means in these two very different environments is pretty illuminating.

Let’s focus on two aspects of the bill: banning mandatory DEI courses and academic relations with China.

In the Dispatch op-ed, Sen. Cirino targets what he dubs the “wild claims” of Ohio State University English professor Pranav Jani as “factually incorrect.” Jani, in his own Dispatch op-ed, wrote that the bill would cause the “elimination of academic freedom, and restrictions on/prohibitions of ethnic studies, gender studies curricula,” and “dictate what educators and students teach and learn in the classroom.” Cirino responded (caps in the original):

“The bill places NO restrictions or prohibitions on ANY curricula or classroom material.”

Nonetheless, in the bill, the prohibition against any mandatory DEI courses could be the basis for Jani’s remarks, as within a General Education curriculum there could be (and are currently) required courses on race, ethnicity, and gender diversity. Such courses are taught within the programs mentioned by Prof. Jani, and so the interpretation that the bill would outlaw such courses is not unfounded.

Turning to the podcast, Cirino responds to the hosts’ quotation of the bill when it states how Ohio’s universities and colleges “shall not seek to inculcate any social, political, or religious point of view” and how the bill would ban universities from taking positions on the “public policy controversies of the day” and make creating an “atmosphere free of political, racial, gender, and religious” part of annual faculty evaluations. 

After reading these quotes, Josh or Jack (it is hard to tell the two hosts apart), are stumped by the fact that Sen. Cirino’s bill doesn’t mention “liberal bias” directly, nor anything about the “left, communism or Marxism.” But Sen. Cirino quickly allays their fears, with the example of Critical Race Theory (CRT), which he notes is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the bill’s language but is there if you read between the lines.

Here are Sen. Cirino’s exact words:

“You don’t see CRT anywhere, either – but it’s in there because if you look carefully at the things they are not allowed to do, it basically covers the waterfront inclusive of CRT – you know, you can’t make one group think they are worth more about another group, you can’t make a kid feel guilty about things what were done in the past, you know, those kind of things – that is in the bill and that is effectively what CRT does. I tried to avoid having these hot button terms used that gives the other side ammunition against us, but we were able to cover the same ground using different terms.”

Putting to one side Sen. Cirino’s ignorance as to what CRT actually is, for someone so concerned about the bill being misunderstood and misrepresented, this admission of bait-and-switch within the very language of the bill does not instill confidence.

Turning to academic relations with China and staying with the podcast, one of the hosts makes the claim that Ohio State University is flooded with Chinese exchange students and although he says he doesn’t want to be xenophobic, he describes the universities as “training the enemy.”

While Sen. Cirino could have used this comment as an opportunity to clarify that the bill will not impact Chinese students at Ohio universities, he instead expresses his agreement, pivoting to say that, “unlike our liberal professors, I am an American first,” to which the presenter says “Amen.”

After some vague comments about when he did business in China as a CEO, Sen. Cirino claims that “they [the Chinese government] put people on campus.” He proceeds to say the following:

“I don’t have any problem with your regular Chinese student who wants to learn English or wants to learn Biology, or whatever.”

As for institutional partnerships, some are fine, especially those from Europe, as Sen. Cirino mentions Kent State’s campus in Italy as “good, good for exchange.”

Returning to the Dispatch op-ed, when Sen. Cirino writes that Prof. Jani says the bill will ban “Chinese and other students from classrooms,” he describes the statement as a “damnable lie.” What, however, is a lie is that Prof. Jani even wrote that this was there in the bill. What he actually wrote was that, as we have seen in other states such as Texas and Florida, initial claims to promote “diversity of thought” in the Ohio bill are about getting a platform, once that is established, banning classes and programs built around diversity and inclusion, banning books and even banning Chinese and other students from classrooms, can occur. (Prof. Jani helpfully offers references for each of these things happening in other states).

In fact, when Sen. Cirino makes the comment that Prof. Jani is an “English professor who doesn’t understand plain English,” beyond the standard racist and xenophobic trope, we can hear the same dismissive tone that imagines Chinese students coming to Ohio to study English, biology or whatever!

These are just a couple of instances when Sen. Cirino inadvertently reveals the indoctrination he is claiming his bill will challenge at our colleges and universities is most clearly present in his own echoing of right-wing culture war talking points that his legislation is founded on, but not explicit about.

We know that the people of Ohio are not going to be duped by this and will join professors like Pranav Jani in pushing back on this duplicitous bill, its author, and its proponents. Here is where the dragons of indoctrination are, within those who make policy, not in the classrooms of our colleges and universities.